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Looking Back to See Forward

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for August 13, 2023. I am hitting most of the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 8:13-18.

Last time we met together, we left the “returned exiles,” as they called themselves, in Jerusalem with a restored city wall, celebrating the Festival of Trumpets, a celebration which goes back to the time of Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness. It was a time to remember and thank Yahweh (Jehovah in old English) for His personal care of the children of Israel. After this particular celebration, the Israelites renamed the holiday “New Years” (Rosh Hashanah) held in the fall (mid Sept to mid Oct).

The Old Testament Law called for three successive Fall Holidays, Trumpets, Booths (aka Tabernacles or shelters), and the Day of Atonement in this “Seventh Month.” Two are times of rejoicing and one to remember God’s salvation from our sins. So often we get “wrapped around the axel” of our sins and short comings, we forget that, while the sins are real, God has forgiven us and we are to live in His good world with joy and happiness. Of all seven Jewish “Holy Days,” only one recalls sins, the rest are centered around rejoicing in salvation from those sins. It is easy to conclude that because we fall short daily of God’s standards, God is sitting in heaven looking for opportunities to zap us, and we often live in fear of Him, rather than enjoyment of the world He gave us. While we should not deliberately ignore or disobey God, we are to remain joyful in His salvation, not mournful about our shortcomings.

In the church I attend when I am not preaching at Vet’s Chapel, there are several families with adopted children. Some adoptees are born America, some of these are cross-racial adoptions. Several are from Asia and Africa. It is interesting to watch a family with three white children and two or three Asian or African children all walking into the church together on Sunday morning. Now how would a father feel if an adopted child, every Sunday morning, showed up at breakfast falling on his/her face on the floor and cried, I am so unworthy of your goodness to me. You took me in and kept me as if I were your natural born child, but I am so underserving, please forgive me for my shortcomings! I am sure the father would be heartbroken. He would not want that response. Rather, he would have joy in seeing the adopted child singing, playing and joking with all his/her siblings, rather than mourning about his/her past estate.

The same is true of God, after all He has asked His believers to call Him Father. He is a person, with feelings, intellect and will. We are created like Him in His image. So, it is not irreverent to imagine this illustration. He is joyful when we are joyful about receiving the blessings He has given to us.

In this particular Festival of Booths, or shelters, called “tabernacles” in the KJV, the Children of Israel do what might be compared to a “thanksgiving camp out.” A way of thanking God for His provision. For seven days after the “Trumpets Feast” the Israelites were to build temporary shelters to live in. The shelters are built close to the present dwellings of the people. God had blessed them with permanent homes. But “once upon a time,” they lived in shelters as they traveled out of Egypt and into Canaan land. God blessed and kept them in the wilderness after escaping Egypt. God was still keeping them. They needed to remember the past. God delivered them, God took care of them, and God is still caring for them.

For us too, by looking back, we see what God has done for us in the past. That helps us see that God is the provider of what we have today. With good lands, homes, and security it is easy to forget where we came from. We often re-think our history, making us the hero of our own journey. “By my strength and the might of my own hand I have built all this,” said King Nebuchadnezzar, just before God struck him with insanity. We tend to do the same.

So, the festival of booths reminds us, right in the present of our own current prosperity, that God has helped us “gain” that prosperity. But at the same time, the festival looks forward to an even greater future. On the last day (the eighth day) of the festival, the whole assembly gathered to praise God for His blessings. A “songfest” of praise just before taking down their shelters and returning home to “life as usual.” But in this “doxology” they were looking forward to the day God would fulfill all His promises to Israel. That future Kingdom will be ruled over by Messiah, Himself. Much like we did in our prayer this morning, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth [just like] in heaven.” Pardon my paraphrase.

Turn with me in the New Testament to John 7:37. Here is a record of Jesus attending the Festival of Booths in the last year of His earthly ministry. It is Fall; in the Spring Feast of Passover He will be executed. I wish I could preach an entire sermon on this incident. But I will attempt to be brief. In the context, some people are believing in Christ, some are still questioning His credentials, and others are plotting to kill Him. The entire story is from 7:11 through 52. In verse 7:37 it says, “On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood up and said with a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” (NIV updated 1996)

I am not sure how many Jewish believers, either in Nehemiah’s day or Jesus’ day, understood that the joint celebrations of Trumpets and Booths were believed by the scholars and Rabbis of their day to be a commemoration of the coming of Messiah to fulfill all the promises of God to Israel and establish the eternal Kingdom. Jesus authenticates that interpretation here in John 7.

Now what about us as New Testament believers living almost 2000 years after Christ’s death? We have no exact equivalent to either of these festivals. But we do praise Him weekly in our worship services. We also commemorate the Death of Christ in the Lords Supper, observed weekly in this Chapel. In the same way as the ancient Hebrews, we look back on what God has done, we praise Him for what He is doing, and we look forward to what He will do in the future. By looking Back, we can see forward.

I plead with each of you to be certain you are believing and trusting Jesus for your salvation, and receiving the life-giving water which can flow from you to water others with the same grace, by faith in Christ the Messiah.

God Bless you,

CH Jim Odell


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